Throw the bums out is a popular argument every election year, and in particular this fall when it comes to the Minnesota Legislature, which has proved incredibly capable of doing very little.
No tax bill. No transportation bill. No reforms, just the standard scene of late-night, last-minute chaos and breakdown. Not even a bonding bill, which funds infrastructure projects across the state. The bonding bill comes along every election year, and typically involves just a round of bipartisan high-fives as lawmakers head off to campaign and talk up the local money and jobs they brought back. And then the ongoing MNsure debacle, which we won’t go into detail on here; the politics are murky and the big fixes are in Washington, not St. Paul.
But that simplistic, anti-incumbent argument would ignore the evidence of getting things done, and cohesive, aggressive advocacy for southeast Minnesota’s most pressing issues, that the representatives and senators in the Winona area have strongly demonstrated.
That’s why we’re endorsing a slate of House and Senate incumbents: Sen. Jeremy Miller, R-Winona; Sen. Matt Schmit, DFL-Red Wing; Rep. Gene Pelowski, DFL-Winona; Rep. Greg Davids, R-Preston; and Rep. Steve Drazkowski, R-Mazeppa.
That’s not to say the alternatives don’t deserve serious consideration. We were roundly impressed by the strength and poise of two challengers — Jon Pieper, running against Miller, and Thomas Trehus, running against Davids — as well as the potential of Mike Goggin, running against Schmit.
HOUSE 28A: Gene Pelowski
Pelowski may be running for his 16th term, but he’s got the energy, drive and intensity of a first-time challenger. He’s been the architect of state-changing policies, ranging from a tuition freeze at public universities to legislation that streamlined the state’s ability to quickly provide money to aid natural disasters.
He’s also leading the charge on a package of legislative reforms that would redefine the way the House does business, putting focus on quality over quantity and, most importantly, making sure the work gets done.
Pelowski also volunteers his time running the Model Legislature, teaching a new generation to be public servants, which continues to be fitting — we can’t think of a stronger or more effective model legislator.
SENATE 28: Jeremy Miller
Miller continues to promote his work building the Purple Caucus, but not all of his have been quite as purple, or district-driven, in recent years. He hasn’t been able to live down voting against a bonding bill this spring that included more than $25 million for WSU’s Education Village, a crucial project not just for Winona but for the entire state. His argument that the vote was strategic may be sound, but it’s cold comfort to voters who want a champion for their interests.
Still, Miller in his six years of service has a long list of concrete accomplishments that other state lawmakers would be proud to claim even half of: A program that cleared obstacles for students transferring credits at state universities; taking on synthetic drugs; the Super Gav act that expanded newborn screenings; advocating for big projects from the interstate bridge to the Fillmore County veterans’ cemetery; and more. He continues to be a strong and accessible advocate, particularly for Winona County.
HOUSE 28B: Greg Davids
Davids, the House’s tax chair, put partisan politics aside to craft a bipartisan tax bill that would have created substantial, positive and immediate changes for many Minnesotans. Unfortunately Gov. Mark Dayton vetoed the bill, and Davids deserves to be in the same chair responsible for putting the bill back on the table. Davids has too often enjoyed partisan flamethrowing over the years, but we believe that having a signature achievement within grasp will be more than enough motivation for him to return to the Capitol and cross the aisle to get his work done.
SENATE 21: Matt Schmit
Schmit has the energy of a 10-year-old boy and the brain of a tenured political-science professor, which makes him a force of nature when taking on everything from broadband development to strategic investments in K-12 education. He hasn’t always had an easy run in a Republican-leaning district, especially his advocacy of broad spending on the issues mentioned above, but we continue to appreciate his work and believe his accomplishments have done more than enough to temper any of the criticism he’s received since taking office in 2012.
His opponent, Mike Goggin, has the potential to be the kind of no-nonsense, independent voice that has benefited the district so long, from Steve Murphy to John Howe. He has great business and personal accomplishments, but has yet to present strong command and understanding of the multiple complex issues facing the state.
HOUSE 21B: Steve Drazkowski
Drazkowski likely cringes whenever he finds his name on our editorial pages. We’ve been highly critical of his partisan posturing, his embrace of ALEC-crafted legislation, and his hard-line stances on spending and taxes, among, well, more than a few other issues. We stand by all that.
And we stand by this: Drazkowski deserves praise, because he came back to his district this year with his name attached to good work.
When he was named the chair of the House’s Property Tax and Local Government Finance subcommittee, he was immediately pilloried. He responded by holding dozens of listening sessions and introducing legislation with important, positive changes for Minnesota taxpayers, including reforming the way farmers pay for school building referendums. His rhetoric has calmed, his focus has sharpened, and he’s demonstrated a sincere desire to put his name to work that benefits Minnesotans. We hope to see that work continue.
Elise Diesslin, a first-time candidate running against Drazkowski, appears to have the right spirit and intent but has come across as inexperienced and overmatched.
SENATE 28: Jon Pieper
In a time when fewer great minds and talents are choosing to run for public office, southeast Minnesota is blessed to have a bench of Democratic and Republican talent, particularly in Pieper and Trehus.
Pieper is a grassroots candidate who commits to knocking on every door in the district he wants to represent. He did it in 2014 running against Davids, and did it again — 20,000 doors, he’s estimated — against Miller.
In two years he’s moved from raw talent to a refined, grounded, purposeful candidate committed to revitalizing rural economies, one who deeply feels and understands the needs of the district’s people and carries them within him. Pieper is a graduate of Camp Wellstone, the program that prepares progressive, compassionate candidates for public office in the image of the late U.S. Sen. Paul Wellstone. So much of his language and spirit is grounded in Wellstone’s approach and ethics that we couldn’t help but feel the connection in our conversations. We don’t make that comparison lightly.
Pieper has strong ideas, a commitment to Minnesota’s small towns, and a here-to-serve-and-then-step-down approach that the state needs. In an magic-wand world, he’d be elected to represent Houston and Fillmore counties, with Miller representing Winona County. In 2016’s world, he’s just not connected strongly enough to Winona County to be the kind of advocate Miller is.
HOUSE 28B: Thomas Trehus
Trehus is a 26-year-old first-time candidate who can discuss any issue facing the Legislature with the nuance and thoughtfulness of a five-term House member. He has presence and confidence beyond his years, and we believe he has the potential to be an exceptional, progressive state lawmaker.
We were particularly impressed with his awareness of what it means to be a DFL candidate in a conservative, rural district — roots in the district that go back multiple generations, advocacy for individual and property rights, a deep understanding of negotiating the kinds of divisive interests that often exist in smaller communities.
He, like Pieper, would easily be a preferred candidate in any number of races, if he weren’t up against a strong, experienced incumbent in Davids, who has important work left undone in St. Paul.